Former activist Coleman

by Coralie Carlson

Editor’s note: This is the first of five stories profiling the nine candidates for governor. Tuesday’s story will look at Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III.

As a prominent social activist at Hofstra University in 1970 New York, Norm Coleman wore long hair and bell-bottom jeans.
Today, the gubernatorial hopeful dons three-piece suits and dress shoes for political debates and public appearances.
But more than his wardrobe has become conservative in the interim.
Coleman, 49, has come a long way from his college days when he orchestrated his school’s partial shutdown in response to the Kent State shootings. As governor, the hippie-turned-Republican would again have the power to shut down a university.
His John Hancock would need to finalize the University’s budget –school officials are asking for an unprecedented $1.2 billion this year — something Gov. Arne Carlson occasionally declined.
Yet Coleman hasn’t issued any position papers on higher education as he refutes Democrats’ plans for new financial aid programs.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III proposed tax credits for college students, while Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura wants students to pay their own way.
As a college student, the New York native was president of his student body and Strike for Peace, an activist group.
Coleman remained politically active as he pursued a law degree at the University of Iowa. Coleman said student activism taught him about politics and leadership.
In 1975, Coleman joined the ranks of the attorney general’s office under his friend, Humphrey. During his 17-year tenure, Coleman rose to head of the criminal division and solicitor general.
He eyed the St. Paul mayor’s office, but lost the DFL endorsement in the early 1990s. Undaunted, Coleman kept campaigning and four years later he nabbed the DFL endorsement and the mayoral seat.
Still at odds with his party, in part because of Coleman’s pro-life position and unfriendly actions toward labor and homosexuals, he flew the coop two years into office and joined the Republicans.
Now in his second term in St. Paul city hall, Coleman turned his eyes toward the Capitol. And his quick ascent has turned University officials’ attention to Coleman’s higher education proposals.
Show me the money
Coleman praised University President Mark Yudof’s vision for the school and said his $1.2 billion request to fund that vision is a fair starting point.
He didn’t promise to fund the whole package, but preached prudence and fiscal responsibility.
“You can’t get everything that you want; in the end you get what you need,” Coleman said, pilfering the Rolling Stones.
Yudof himself said it doesn’t hurt to ask for the mammoth budget, but he didn’t anticipate full funding.
If the state spends too much, Coleman said, it will drive away taxpayers in the end and then the state won’t have money to pay for its basic needs.
Instead, Coleman recommended promoting economic vitality — by creating jobs and cutting taxes — to generate state and private income and fund higher education, among other programs.
“The U is perhaps our greatest engine of economic development in terms new research, new business, new entrepreneurism, well-trained individuals for the high quality jobs that are out there. I’m a huge supporter for that reason,” Coleman said.
As governor, he would also oversee financial aid programs in the state.
Coleman said he worked his way through high school and college and graduated under a mountain of loans.
He said he supports the current state grant program and will maintain the level of state funding even when federal funding for the sister Pell grant increases. In the past, state funding has decreased when the federal government boosts funding, keeping students’ total dollar figure on an even keel and allowing the state to contribute less.
Coleman said he struggles with the issue of rising tuition costs, but promoting the general economy will help the most. Not only will economic growth fund higher education, but it will help students after graduation as well, he said.
“For students, what do I offer? I offer a better hope that they’re going to get a job when they graduate,” Coleman said.
Chris Tiedeman, first-year law student and former Coleman staffer, said a solid economy should be students’ greatest hope.
“I can’t think of anything a college student would look forward to more than being employed when they get out,” he said.
GC generally good
Coleman said he wants to strengthen K-12 education to remove the need for much of the remedial instruction in higher education. But that doesn’t mean he wants to phase out the University’s General College.
In elementary and secondary education, Coleman said he wants to deliver “innovation” in schools through measures like merit pay for teachers, charter schools and tax credits.
While all of the innovation in K-12 should reduce the need for remedial courses in universities, Coleman said the General College should stay.
The University is a land grant institution, he explained, which means it’s supposed to provide broad-based access to citizens of the state.
“In that sense, I’m supportive, because I think it’s consistent with its (the University’s) original function,” Coleman said.
Stadium, schmadium
The hockey stadium in the works in St. Paul is one of Coleman’s crowning glories as mayor. Under his direction, the capital city won the bid from the National Hockey League over Minneapolis. Then Coleman wrestled a $65 million interest-free loan from the Legislature last session to finance the construction.
This fall, the mayor was hit with another stadium issue: the University women’s soccer facility.
Funded in part by another appropriation from the Legislature last year, University officials planned to build the $2.1 million stadium in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb.
But residents, some whose property lines were as near as 30 feet from the proposed site, protested. Coleman and his office helped persuade University officials to move the stadium farther away from residential areas.
With Coleman’s affinity for sports arenas, could the University win favor for a new football or baseball stadium with him at the state’s helm?
Coleman said he will approach all proposed stadiums, including those at the University, by looking at existing conditions and asking, “How do I preserve and enhance community assets?”
And while he declined to give an “easy answer,” Coleman also reminisced over Memorial Stadium, the University’s former football facility.
“I always did like the old stadium,” he said wistfully.